Author(s): Edward Hanfling
From Modernism to the digital age. The title of this book might well have been "The Unknown Mervyn Williams." Its contents will surprise most artlovers who may be familiar with one, perhaps two of the principle phases of this artist's work, but few, if any, will ever have seen all that is laid out here in one place for the first time. His talent was recognised early on by important figures such as R.N. Field, Frank Carpay and Ted Dutch, evidence of it can be clearly seen in the selection of paintings made while he was still in his teens. These are accomplished paintings and entirely abstract, making Williams unique amongst his contemporaries, all of whom worked in a figurative manner before in some cases turning to abstract painting. In the mid 1960s, however, his developing skills and interest in technology led to highly experimental work in Optical Art and also to his nickname "Optic Merv". This direction continued developing throughout the 1970s. Like his colleague and fellow pioneer in this field, Ray Thorburn, he found little response from a local audience dismissive of international directions and hungry for that real "New Zealandness" so evident in the work of the regional painters of the time. The 1980s saw the development of a body of work exploring a different optical effect, textured colour fields which appear to be illuminated from within. Later in that decade came the much admired wooden sculptures and constructions, the legacy of the Tylee Cottage residency. By 1990 Williams had perfected a method of chiaroscuro painting based on Renaissance techniques, giving rise to a powerful illusion of high relief and three dimensionality. This large body of work is unique and original, defining the artist's career and setting it apart from his contemporaries.